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The British Surrender at Saratoga – October 17, 1777
An event every year that begins at 12:00 am on day 17 of October, repeating indefinitely
The Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) marked the climax of the Saratoga campaign, giving a decisive victory to the Americans over the British in the American Revolutionary War. British General John Burgoyne led a large invasion army southward from Canada in the Champlain Valley, hoping to meet a similar British force marching northward from New York City and another British force marching eastward from Lake Ontario; the southern and western forces never arrived, and Burgoyne was surrounded by American forces in upstate New York. He fought two small battles to break out which took place 18 days apart on the same ground, 9 miles (14 km) south of Saratoga, New York. They both failed.
Burgoyne found himself trapped by superior American forces with no relief, so he retreated to Saratoga (now Schuylerville) and surrendered his entire army there on October 17. His surrender, says historian Edmund Morgan, “was a great turning point of the war because it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory.”
Burgoyne’s strategy to divide New England from the southern colonies had started well but slowed due to logistical problems. He won a small tactical victory over General Horatio Gates and the Continental Army in the September 19 Battle of Freeman’s Farm at the cost of significant casualties. His gains were erased when he again attacked the Americans in the October 7 Battle of Bemis Heights and the Americans captured a portion of the British defenses. Burgoyne was therefore compelled to retreat, and his army was surrounded by the much larger American force at Saratoga, forcing him to surrender on October 17. News of Burgoyne’s surrender was instrumental in formally bringing France into the war as an American ally, although it had previously given supplies, ammunition, and guns, notably the de Valliere cannon which played an important role in Saratoga.
The battle on September 19 began when Burgoyne moved some of his troops in an attempt to flank the entrenched American position on Bemis Heights. Benedict Arnold anticipated the maneuver and placed significant forces in his way. Burgoyne did gain control of Freeman’s Farm, but it came at the cost of significant casualties. Skirmishing continued in the days following the battle, while Burgoyne waited in the hope that reinforcements would arrive from New York City. Patriot militia forces continued to arrive, meanwhile, swelling the size of the American army. Disputes within the American camp led Gates to strip Arnold of his command.
British General Sir Henry Clinton moved up from New York City and attempted to divert American attention by capturing Forts Clinton and Montgomery in the Hudson River highlands on October 6, but his efforts were too late to help Burgoyne. Burgoyne attacked Bemis Heights again on October 7 after it became apparent that he would not receive relieving aid in time. This battle culminated in heavy fighting marked by Arnold’s spirited rallying of the American troops. Burgoyne’s forces were thrown back to the positions that they held before the September 19 battle, and the Americans captured a portion of the entrenched British defenses.